By: Stephen O’Brien
A scheme for corporate welfare?
In today’s harsh economy and job market, landing a fulfilling job can be difficult. It has been a growing trend in the past two decades for students to obtain an internship, while in college/university to help ease their way into the job market upon graduation. An “intern”, as defined per Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a person who works as an apprentice or trainee in an occupation or profession to gain practical experience”. Without practical experience prior to looking for full time employment, a candidate can really find themselves in difficulty trying to secure employment. In an attempt to aid with this pressing issue, the Irish government created a national internship scheme in 2011 called JobBridge, as a means of improving job prospects for potential candidates.
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As hopeful as this scheme may sound, JobBridge appears to be a means of exploitation at the expense of the intern, and a benefit to the company, especially financially. Interns receive a top – up payment to their social welfare of €50. It is important to note that taxpayers are funding this scheme, technically paying for companies to employ a free worker. The intern is expected to complete a full working week the same as any other employee, although they are paid below the minimum wage.
Additionally, JobBridge is exploitative of the Live Register numbers.Firstly, it is targeted for those on social welfare, actively looking for jobs, but have been unemployed for at least the past three to six months. Once they are ‘employed’ by a JobBridge company, the government then deducts them from the Live Register, appearing to look like they are tackling the nation’s unemployment problem. This can be argued to not even be reflective of the true unemployment numbers as JobBridge is technically a temporary job, and does not guarantee full time employment (though that is what the general purpose of an internship is supposed to fulfill). It therefore skews the labour market numbers favorably to make the Irish government look good.
The unfortunate reality that out of the 12,000 interns who have participate in JobBridge, less than 20% of them are offered paid positions within the company upon completion. Meanwhile, host companies (who are not allowed to replace paid staff with interns) using JobBridge have been in fact, displacing numerous regular staff.A controversial Indecon evaluation of the scheme in 2013 asserted that 3% of employer respondents openly admitted it was displacing real jobs in a bid to replace paid staff with unpaid interns. That is over 200 companies who admitted to displacing real jobs and yet the government has only barred 35 companies from the scheme. As of January 2015, 84 listed companies were still not in compliance with JobBridge rules.
Richard Boyd Barrett TD, said: “It is an absolute scandal if it is the case that JobBridge scheme is being used by employers to displace other workers. When this scheme was announced, we raised the possibility that it was open to this kind of abuse and this story begs the question about how widespread this is.” In March 2013, Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD challenged Minister Bruton on the outrageous abuse of JobBridge scheme by a private waste company, which also has contracts with the state. The waste management company Oxigen, who run the recycling plant in Ballyogan on behalf of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council took on a number of staff via the JobBridge scheme. These staff were trained by workers who then lost their jobs. These workers were employed by A&S Finnegan, a sub-contractor for Oxygen. These workers had spent the previous weeks training a number of Job Bridge “interns”. Three of these interns are now doing the jobs of these previously employed workers. The Ballyogan Depot is owend by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.
Brian Halpin said: “I was working in Ballyogan for 1 year and 11 months and I was only told on Wed 27 March that I would no longer be needed on Monday 1 April. Now there is an intern doing my job. This intern is being paid from Dept of Social Protection and I had to sign on too costing the state (and taxpayers) an extra €238 every week while Oxygen are laughing all the way to the bank.”
The Anti-Austerity Alliance publicly aired their discourse with the scheme in February 2015 stating, “The JobBridge scheme has been shown to be exploitative, is being used by employers as a source of free labour and in cases is acting as a block on paid employment for people. This new scheme is almost identical in terms of the top-up payment and duration.”
So many aspects of JobBridge, though are “legal” according to Irish law, are very unethical. What is massively shocking is the fact that so many JobBridge companies are multinational, multi-million and billion dollar companies, (ex: IBM), who despite making overwhelming profits still chose to take advantage of this scheme in order to thereby increase 3 their own profits not having to pay for the intern’s labour. This raises the question of ethicality. If a company can afford to hire and employ workers, should they be allowed to utilise this scheme to their own financial benefit? A second angle of ethics to delve into is the type of work experience being offered through this scheme. For example, as mentioned previously, an intern is hired to gain professional and practical experience.
However, there are outrageous, controversial “practical work experience” being offered through the JobBridge scheme. For example, cleaners, delivery drivers, ‘sandwich artists’ and potato pickers are some of the many “creative” postings found on JobBridge. Though this does qualify as a “job”, it is not one of practical experience that can be valuable for interns towards their future careers. Companies, be it big, small, private or public are unethically glorifying work experiences that may in fact not be beneficial to interns in an attempt to exploit free labour. Private companies are sourcing interns to complete seasonal work, with the majority of these jobs not leading to any secure full time employment.
In conclusion, though this scheme is legal, a great deal should be changed in the operations and regulations of JobBridge. Job offerings should be re-evaluated to reflect genuine practical experience and applicable skills-training for the candidates. It would be the most ethical for JobBridge to increase the pay to mirror at the very least, minimum wage to align to the rest of the labour market’s earnings. JobBridge should provide open and honest statistics themselves about the success of this program in terms of helping young, unemployed Irish citizens – especially because it is the taxpayers who are funding this program, and we deserve to know how beneficial this is towards combatting the unemployment crisis. Until these issues are dealt with, it is fair to call this scheme a “Job(less)Bridge”.
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Greg Harkin. (2014). Farmer defends €50 JobBridge offer for a 30-hour week collecting potatoes. Available: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/farmer-defends-50-jobbridge-offer-fora-30hour-week-collecting-potatoes-30410919.html. Last accessed 25.08.15.
(2014). Subway advertise for ‘Sandwich Artist’ intern through JobBridge. Available: http://www.thejournal.ie/subway-sandwich-artist-jobsbridge-internship-1722566-Oct2014/. Last accessed 25.08.15